Fiery Writing Pack
The Traveler turned the knob into the world. The instant that the old battered doors opened before him a rush of frigid air rushed into the room, turning his breath into a cold white mist. He gave a slight start at the sudden drop in temperature then brought up his protective mask over his mouth just as he bent down and slung his survival pack over his shoulders; strapped it on and then made sure that his long coat was fastened to his snow pants. Assured that he wouldn’t freeze to death in the near future, he stepped out into the icy wasteland that had once held life. Once. Those days were long gone now. He turned, looking back at the heap of a shack that had given him shelter for the last few days. He was always loath to leave good cover from the beating rain and constantly falling snow, but as always he didn’t have a choice. He had to move on. His destination for the day wasn’t far, a small hours walk from where he was now, but he had to make it before midday when the harsh snow began falling.
He started forward, pulling his compass from out of a sleeve on his coat with his gloved hand as he started dragging his booted feat through the thick snow. Being used to it by now didn’t make walking through the thick snow any easier. Hopefully he would be able to find a pair of snow shoes one of these days, but it was a hollow hope and he knew it. The chance of finding anything in good repair, not just snow shoes had always been difficult, and the event three months ago had made it nearly impossible. If he was lucky then he might be able to find a custom pair made from some wire, but even those would take some very good luck to find as they would be a very valuable item.
Shrugging off the thoughts he trudged on, the strong ice-filled wind a constant reminder of how much harder it would be to travel without his coat. There had been times where it wasn’t unheard of to travel in lighter clothes in the mornings and evenings, but that was so long ago that he could hardly remember it. He checked his compass again to make sure that he was headed in the right direction. Even more important than his coat was his compass. Even in the lighter times of weather visibility was bad, and if you were out in the middle of the day then there wasn’t likely to be any visibility at all, and certainly not enough to tell direction if there was. As such working compasses were a very precious commodity, and he was lucky enough to have two working ones. The one he was using now worked perfectly. The other one tended to defer towards West occasionally, but not to any significant amount. He had been given the finicky one as a gift when he was young, but the good one he had found a month ago on a corpse.
He shook his head. There were still parts of that corpse that puzzled him. It was certainly not the first corpse he had seen, it was inevitable that some would succumb to the cold eventually, but those corpses were always frozen and usually had been gone over by other wanderers with a fine tooth comb before he ever saw them. Either that or they hadn’t been found yet by anyone. In that case he helped himself to what he needed and said a short prayer for the dead. He always varied what religion the prayer was from because while wasn’t religious himself he didn’t think that anyone deserved to die that way, and so he hoped that they could find some comfort in whatever afterlife they went on to.
Rarely though he would find a different kind of corpse. It had only happened twice, but he always knew it when he saw it. A person that had been killed not by the cold, but by an object of some sort. He always kept himself well on his guard when he met other wanderers, because he knew that there were those that would survive no matter what the cost, even if that cost was human lives. Those corpses were always picked down to the last scrap of useful material. The corpse that had the compass on it though had been seemingly mauled by something heavy and then the unconscious, or dead, man had been…eaten. He knew this was impossible; all animals that had ever lived there had long gone extinct and none could survive now if they hadn’t, but nevertheless the corpse had been left with the man’s survival pack and what was left of the clothes he had on when he died.
His survival pack had contained all the necessities of a wanderer; spare clothes, provisions, simple tools and the compass that he used now. The body itself however seemed to have been partially eaten, even care taken to avoid the bones. It would have to be a reasonably intelligent predator to do that if it was an animal. The other possibility, he shivered, and he knew it wasn’t from the cold, was cannibals, but that still didn’t explain why the provisions and the pack hadn’t been taken off of the body. Even cannibals had to protect themselves from the cold. For the week or so afterward that he remained in the area he became more cautious than usual, picking more concealed places to sleep and take cover from the snow, but nothing ever happened and he never saw anyone, or anything, and so he went back to his usual routine. The mystery still bugged him though and he hoped to get to the bottom of it when he had the chance. For now though, he had to get to his destination. A place to sleep under cover and in relative warmth before midday was a necessity, and he had seen a spot that would work in his scouting session a few days ago.
Suddenly he felt a slight movement through his boot. He immediately dropped, whipping out his knife from the small compartment in his sleeve and stabbing it down towards where he had felt the movement. He heard a faint squeal, and smiled. There was in fact one type of animal that had adapted to life in this area. They called them squirts, but his grandpa had told him that they had been rats or gophers before the disaster. Whatever they used to be, they evolved into cold-resistant rodents ranging from as short as his thumb to as big as his hand. From the sound of it this one was pretty big. He pulled his knife up from out of his boot print and dug a little into the snow.
Yep! This one was almost as big as his hand. It would last him a full day, or two if need be. He took off his survival pack and put the squirt’s body into one of the pouches he reserved for food. He grimaced; he didn’t have much food left. Hopefully his information was right and there was a settlement ahead. He had never run into more than two or three other people since he started traveling. One of them was nice enough to teach him the elementary bits about surviving out in the cold. He had even found him a survival pack to use. The old man had also told him about a settlement to the West and that he himself was headed for. That man had helped remind him that there was still kindness in the world, even after everything that had happened to him.
He smiled as he stood up, remembering the old man’s kindness. He had barely said two words with anyone else since then, and he missed talking to other people. Sighing, he took a step forward and stopped dead before his boot touched the ground. He stepped back and took a closer look at the snow in front of him. There was a survival pack sticking face up from under the snow. He moved over by it and, gingerly, tried to get it out of the snow, but it wouldn’t budge. Sighing he began to dig into the snow around it a little, but then he hit back. Someone’s back. He carefully dug around the body, and then flipped it over. It was the old man, but his chest had been…clawed out by something. His chest was such a mess that you could barely tell what it was. His head fell and he felt sadness. The only bright part of his new life had been killed by…by what? His sadness was immediately replaced by adrenaline and fear as he pulled out his knife and frantically started looking around. After 5 minutes of looking at nothing but snow, he finally relaxed a little, but he still kept his knife stuck into the ground beside him while he said his prayer for the man.
The prayer was longer than usual; in fact he sat there for twenty minutes saying every prayer he could remember, but he hoped that wherever the man went it was better than this. Better than this god forsaken world. He jammed his knife back into its slot and walked away. The man deserved better, the least he could do was leave him with the pack that had kept him alive in the wasteland. He turned and walked on as he blinked a tear out of his eye at the corpse vanished into the distance behind his back.
E-Day. Who could have thought that it could happen? The scientists? They had no idea that living down there was even possible; much less that a hostile sentient species bent on wiping out humanity could be down there. No, of course they didn’t. It was impossible right? The Armies? Broken, weakened, and shattered by the fruitless fighting of a century of the Pendulum Wars, left with only half-baked treaties and name-only alliances between the nations of Sera. Goddamnit. Were the Locust waiting until humanity was at its weakest? Or was it some other reason? If so, what was that reason?
“Ugh.” John thought as he checked his lancer’s chainsaw. “Why did they have to do it?” The damn grubs just had to come up from their dirty little holes and up and start causing more trouble for the world. Sure the “peace” after the war ended wasn’t exactly solid, but at least there was no more plain open fighting day after day. It was peace. Now he highly doubted that there would be peace ever again.
He had gotten his orders to return to base with his unit along with the rest of COG forces, and he had just found out why a few minutes ago. They were using the Hammer of Dawn. They were finally going to use it. The only problem was that the grubs lived underground, and that they were only in surface areas where other humans were. Once the humans are…gone…from somewhere one way or another, the Locust take what they can use, adapt, or learn from and then move on. Because of that the lasers were going to fire at everything. Well, everything but Ephyra, but for the rest of Sera that wasn’t much of a consolation.
The government, which was pretty much just Prescott nowadays, had made the right choice in his opinion. Three days to get to Ephyra might seem hard to some, but he estimated that it would only be a week or so after that that the grubs would reach Ephyra, if not Jacinto itself. It really was a choice between survival and death for humanity, and as hard as it would be for the survivors to live without their family that couldn’t make it in time, it would be worse if they all died regardless and brought humanity down with them.
Not that their squad was in a good position for it. He chuckled, smiling wryly in amusement. They were just about as far from Ephyra as you could get, at least with a three day time limit. The idea had been that because the Locust just about left areas they had already cleared alone, that maybe the COG could survive by moving through various bases made in already conquered areas. His squad was at the very edge of Ephyra, about a month or so behind the Locust advance. They were one of the special forces teams sent to scout out potential areas. Of course they had been sent out before the decision with the Hammer had been made…or at least he hoped so. Hoffman wouldn’t do that to them, he knew that.
“Hey John!” Someone called from behind him. “Still lazing around are you? You know we have to find that bunker before tomorrow, or we’re going to be in some serious trouble even if the Hammer doesn’t hit here.”
“Shut up Kale.” John said brusquely, not slowing his walk at all. “If you want me to move faster, then why don’t you carry my lancer for me?” John said as he walked over to him and thrust his lancer, chainsaw first, towards him expectantly. “It shouldn’t be a problem for you ‘mister muscle’. Am I right?”
“Don’t be silly John; it would take more than a couple of lancers to weigh me down, but I wouldn’t want you weaponless if you got jumped by a grub. It would be a pain if I had to save your ass again. The first time almost got me killed along with you.”
John grunted at that and started moving forward again, making sure to not fall over any of the debris littering the street. They had been fighting about a month ago to hold one of the Tyran fringe cities against the Locust invasion. They had just gotten the order to retreat and he had just finished fighting off a Berserker when another one came up from behind him, knocking him over and almost killing him when he smashed against a burning tank. He would have died if Kale hadn’t chain sawed its head off just in time. The delay had almost made them late for their Raven, and when evacing an overrun city, the Ravens had learned to not wait very long for fleeing troops. The troops were all too often not fleeing and certainly not friendly.
He sighed regretfully as he moved around a fallen building strut. Too many good men had been lost to the Locust simply because they couldn’t retreat. It was a shame, but it happened in war. Then he stopped immediately and slid into cover behind a piece of a fallen building as he signaled Kale to do the same. When he looked at John questioningly he nodded towards the direction they had been going on the street. Kale’s eyes widened slightly, and he eased his head around a corner long enough to see the drone standing in the street, seemingly doing nothing but standing there.
“Crap.” He mouthed as he moved back, and then mouthed to John, “What do you want to do?” They were here on a different mission, but they would have to clear the grub, or grubs, out eventually. They had been hoping that none would be there at all, or at least until they had made it perfectly obvious that their team was there. So much for that, but for the time being their priority was to find the survival bunker to avoid the Hammer strike that was going to decimate Sera itself. Even if it didn’t hit Charlesson City directly, it would still kick dirt and only god knew what else into the air. They had to stay out of the way until at least some of that stuff dispersed in the air and they could reasonably assume that breathing wouldn’t kill them. They had the grubs for that and they did not need anything else.
“We’ll move into that building to the left. It looks mostly intact and it has a great view of the street.” Dang did reading lips come in handy. That was why all special ops teams had to learn it. Even whispering could prove fatal in some situations for them, while normal gears had very little need to be quiet about anything they did in their careers. After all you could hardly expect a Locust drone to be quiet while a Gear was sawing it in half with his Lancer’s chainsaw.
They moved over into the building without being spotted. They carefully, and quietly, made their way to the third floor, checking everything carefully as they went. There were no signs of any Locust on the first two floors, but there were some signs of human habitation. Signs much more recent than when Charlesson had been overrun. That was good. It would make their jobs that much easier when the time came. Until then they would, hopefully at least, not get in their way and become a problem.
They methodically checked the rest of the third floor, but when they got to the room with the best view of the streets and the other buildings they had an unpleasant surprise- two Locust drones overlooking the streets from the room. They quickly moved back on each side of the door, and John told Kale what they were going to do. A Lancer’s chainsaw would make too much noise for any other Locust in the area to hear, as would shooting the two of them with their Lancers. However if they shot them with their pistols at point blank range, it should be quiet enough…should be, they had to hope that the noise wouldn’t carry down to the street.
As soon as they had their pistols out and loaded they ran across the room, staying in the drone’s blind spots but making as little noise as they possibly could. Then when they were close enough they grabbed the drone’s around their necks and pumped three rounds straight into their skulls. At that range one shot might have punched through the drone’s hides and penetrated, but they had to be very, very sure that the Locust were dead before they proceeded; even at the raised risk of a Locust discovering them.
The drones dropped, they reloaded, and then they stepped over to look out of the windows that overlooked the street. They spotted the drone that they had seen earlier. He was just about directly below them, three stories down and on the street. Then John noticed a glint from one of the other windows in one of the buildings further down the street. It was another pair of drones, and there were more pairs in two other buildings further down, as well as about half a dozen more drones spaced out across the street.
“Crap.” Kale said. Out loud this time. “That is at least a dozen drones, and it doesn’t look like they are here to do something themselves, it looks like they are watching out for someone else who is.”
“Come on.” John said, moving towards the door. “That piece of fallen building is blocking our view down the street, but we might be able to see from the next level up.”
They moved up to the fourth floor, clearing the rooms just like they had the rest of them, and then entered the room that was roughly about the other one, at the corner of the building facing further down the street. John reached the window first, and was the first to see what was down the street past the roadblock. As soon as he had, he turned around and leaned his back against the wall, exhaling.
Without looking at Kale, he said “Four dozen Locust. Not drones, or at least not entirely. There’re some boomers and I think a few berserkers mixed in, I’m not sure, they could just be larger boomers. They seem to be trying to get into one of the buildings but it looks like it’s going pretty slowly. Someone barricaded the building up pretty tightly, and it looks like the other entrances are covered by debris.”
Kale went up to the window and looked at the gather of Locust in front of the building. He stood there a moment, examining them carefully, then breathed “Shit” and motioned for John to come look. John moved over, looking at the scene again. “John,” he said, “Look around there where the Locust are standing. Carefully. What do you see?”
John looked at the place he was talking about, trying to figure out what he meant. Was there a new type of Locust? Then it dawned on him that what he had thought had been just more pieces of debris were actually bodies. Human bodies. They must have been survivors, and then Stranded, that survived the Locust assault on the city.
“John.” Kale said, “You know what this means don’t you?”
Yeah, he knew what it meant. There were living Stranded in the building, and the Locust were trying to kill them.
Thanks for reading!
The other day I was walking down the street and picked up a fallen piece of paper.
I threw it in the garbage, shrugged, and walked on. Then someone who was handing out flyers gave me one of these.
A little confused, he continued walking along, and right when he walked up the steps into his apartment building, he saw this on the door.
Make of that what you will, and thanks for reading!